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Patti Komara

Longtime gymnastics instructor Patti Komara had spoken at several national clinics along with former U.S. Olympic sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Al Hamnik, The Times

For many years, Larry Nassar was maybe in that van slowly circling school yards and playgrounds.

Parents and students weren't suspicious at first.

They'd say "hello" and exchange pleasantries.

But soon, there was talk, concerns, disturbing allegations that were either ignored or filed away by the authorities — allowing this sexual predator to fool the public and have his way.

Today, disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar is a dead man walking, sentenced to 40 to 175 years after assaulting more than 150 women while employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.

Those brave women sealed his fate by confronting him face to face in a Michigan courtroom during the grueling 16-month case.

There is also a 60-year federal sentence for child pornography crimes which the 54-year-old must first serve.

How this despicable human will affect youth participation in gymnastics is anyone's guess. Can instructors and sports doctors ever be trusted again? Are there more Larry Nassars out there?

"Disgusted. It makes me sick to my stomach," said long-time gymnastics instructor Patti Komara of Patti's All-American in Dyer. "He was very well-known in our industry. I've been speaking nationally and for decades we've been on the same docket to be speakers.

"He couldn't have been more professional. That's why it went on because no one would've thought about a professional doctor who was well-known and well-respected."

Komara paused a moment.

"But now you see him in that orange (prison) suit and, son of a gun, it makes you sick to your stomach," she said. "To think all those girls ... all those girls.

"He had them thinking they were having a 'procedure' that was medically accepted. There were times when moms were in the room with him. So it's not like he was doing this behind closed doors."

Accusers said Nassar would sometimes use a sheet or his body to block a parent's view.

Many were children at the time and said Nassar would use his ungloved hand to penetrate them, often without explanation, while they were on the table seeking help for various injuries.

Komara's gymnastics school has 28 instructors and celebrates its 50th anniversary in June of 2019. She is shocked and deeply saddened by the Nassar revelation and expects changes within the industry.

"Oh, my God. I think it's definitely going to make people stop and say: 'Hey, are they doing proper background checks? What kind of safety procedures are in place?'" she said. "But my company, we don't have a competitive (format). We don't have anybody staying overnight for meets. We don't have any male coaches. If a child has an injury, their parents take them to a family doctor.

"We don't have that European form of coaching that was brought over by the Karolyis (Bela, Martha); that Bobby Knight in-your-face approach, belittling them, physical and verbal abuse."

Patti's is exclusively gymnastics instruction but she says the sport will be hurt until people can regain trust in the process.

"Show me it's different, from the top all the way down. Everybody has to demand change — the athlete, the parent, the administrators, the judges, the coaches, the gym owners," she said.

Michigan State and USA Gymnastics have already had several administrators resign, with more housecleaning and legal action certain to come.

It should be noted Olympians come from private gymnastics schools.

"There's about 5,000 in the country," Komara said. "Out of that, 3,500 belong to USA Gymnastics club memberships.

"But you also have got ones that aren't."

On Wednesday and Thursday, Patti Komara will be among 12 noted instructors who have been asked to meet with the new CEO of USA Gymnastics for suggestions and solutions.

Komara said the United States Olympic Committee had originally threatened to pull USA Gymnastics' charter, but chose not to because Nassar's heinous crimes were just a very small part of the big picture.

Nassar has never apologized or shown remorse to his accusers, claiming he was a very good doctor and actually wrote in a letter to the judge that "Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned."

No more playgrounds or school parking lots for him.

I've always been told prison hard-timers loathe inmates who sexually abuse children, so Larry Nassar had better sleep with both eyes open.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at